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May 2013Vol. 14, No. 4Youth Relationship Education in Foster Care

Research shows that many teens in foster care engage in risky sexual behavior, such as having sex for the first time at a young age and using contraceptives incorrectly. Adolescence is a confusing time for anyone, and it can be especially difficult for youth in care who lack strong relationships with caring adults who can provide sound relationship advice. A research brief from Child Trends explores the research on and evaluation of relationship education programs for youth in foster care.

Research shows that relationship skills can be learned; however, there is a clear gap among relationship education programs that specifically target children and youth in care. To fill this gap, the authors suggest implementing a tiered approach to services that integrates relationship education components into existing services, particularly teen pregnancy prevention services.

Child Trends examined dozens of programs targeting both youth in care and other vulnerable populations with similar risk factors. Existing programs include:

  • Four relationship education programs for any population that have been evaluated using a randomized control treatment design or a high-quality quasiexperimental design
  • One program for youth in care that has been evaluated using a randomized control treatment design, with a relationship component as part of a broader range of program components
  • Three evaluated programs with a relationship education component that addresses romantic relationships but do not address relationship outcomes
  • Nine evidence-based relationship education programs, or programs with a relationship education component, without a formal evaluation
  • One evaluated program already implemented with youth in care that could be augmented with a relationship education component
  • Eight programs that do not target youth in care but have been evaluated and could be augmented with a relationship education component

The authors developed a logic model depicting key program elements critical for success and that could be used as a tool for designing, planning, implementing, and evaluating relationship education programs.

Putting Youth Relationship Education on the Child Welfare Agenda: Findings from a Research and Evaluation Review, by Mindy Scott, Kristin Anderson Morre, Alan Hawkins, Karin Malm, and Martha Beltz, is available on the Child Trends website:  (811 KB)